Transport and logistics provider Toll Group has won a 10-year contract to operate a key element of NSW Health’s aeromedical fleet.
NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner announced the winners of the recently conducted tender for the state’s rotary-wing air ambulance operations on Friday.
Under the new contracts, the state’s helicopter ambulance operations will be split into a Northern and Southern region, with a separate operator for each region.
Toll Group will run the Southern Region from newly constructed bases in Bankstown, Orange, and the existing base in Canberra, which is currently operated by the SouthCare service.
The tender for the Northern Region’s 10-year contact was won by Northern NSW Helicopter Rescue Service Pty Ltd, a joint bid from the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service based in Newcastle and Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service based in Lismore. The consortium will also continue operating the existing base at Tamworth.
Skinner said every helicopter that was part of the Helicopter Retrieval Network would be able to transfer sick neonates and babies.
That would remove the need for a single Newborn and Paediatric Transport Service (NETS) helicopter, she said.
“The reform plan has paved the way for the streamlining of our helicopters and I’m pleased to say the larger AgustaWestland 139 helicopter will be implemented state-wide as the standard aircraft for the state’s aeromedical fleet,” Skinner said in a statement on Friday.
“In a first for NSW, this world-class aircraft will also be NETS (Newborn and Paediatric Transport Service)-capable to deliver life-saving clinical care to our smallest and most vulnerable patients.
“I have no doubt the new Helicopter Retrieval Network will deliver improved retrieval coverage for metropolitan, rural, regional and remote NSW and, most importantly, better outcomes for patients no matter where they live.”
Toll Group said the contract was expected to generate about $800 million in revenue over the 10-year term of the deal.
The company said there would be eight new purpose-built medical helicopters operating from four bases, as well as an aeromedical training centre at Bankstown Airport.
Toll Group managing director Brian Kruger noted the company had provided helicopter services for the Australian Federal Police in the Solomon Islands, as well as the Australian Defence Force in East Timor.
Moreover, Toll had also provided disaster relief management support on behalf of Australian government agencies in the Asia-Pacific.
“The experience we bring will give confidence to the people of NSW and the ACT that an outstanding helicopter medical rescue service is available,” Kruger said in a statement.
Toll chief pilot Colin Gunn, who had 14 years’ experience in the industry including work in the Solomon Island, said the company was known for its professionalism, safety and reliability.
“The helicopters we fly all over the world are the best in the business, and the choppers we’ll have for this new contract will be no different,” Gunn said. “I can’t wait to get to work and start helping the people of NSW and the ACT in times of need.”
Toll said more than 100 operational and engineering jobs would be created in the build up to operations starting in 2017.
Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service general manager Richard Jones said his organisation had worked on winning the contract for more than three years.
“We now begin a challenging but rewarding period of maintaining our services to the community while we prepare and implement the changes the new contract will bring,” Jones said in a statement.
Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service acting general manager Roger Fry said the announcement on Friday gave “peace of mind for not only our staff and volunteers, but for the wider community who rely on the rescue helicopter to be there when it counts”.
Existing operator for what is now the Southern NSW Region CHC Helicopters Australia said it was disappointed not to have retained the contract.
Moreover, there would be an extra 11.5 full time equivalent doctors and 18 new full time equivalent paramedics under the new contracts, Skinner said.
CHC Helicopters regional director Nick Mair said the company would continue to provide high-quality service until the new operators commenced in 2017.
“Rest assured that there will be no let-up in our commitment while we are still operators,” Mair said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Skinner said a doctor would be on every patient retrieval flight from every base across the network from 2017, while bases at Newcastle, Tamworth, Orange, Wollongong, Canberra and Lismore were going to be operational 24 hours a day.